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The 263 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who were repatriated from strife-torn Syria on Tuesday were grateful to be back in the Philippines. In a report of GMA Network's "Balitanghali" newscast on Tuesday, one of the OFWs said, " “Masaya ako at makikita ko ang pamilya ko. Finished ko ang kontrata pero pinilit ako, sabi ng kasama ko umuwi ako." Another OFW said, “Marami na po kaming narinig tapos may bombahan na po sa labas ng bahay namin. At saka ko nalang naisip mabuhay nung dumating po kami ngayong araw.” Government officials, led by Vice President Jejomar Binay, welcomed the OFWs at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) after they were forced to leave Syria due to on-going armed conflict.
With Binay were Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario and Overseas Worker’s Welfare Administration Administrator Carmelita Dimzon.
Del Rosario said processing the OFWs repatriation papers was difficult because 90 percent of them were undocumented workers in Syria.
Del Rosario personally went to Syria last week to make three requests from its government:
- the waiver of exit visas of the Filipinos;
- negotiations with employers, and
- waiver of penalties on immigration.
“All of our requests were for waiving these requirements were actually granted by the office of the Syrian president,” Del Rosario said. “The Syrian government was kind enough to grant and give way for simply what we were looking for,” he added.
The 263 OFWs were part of the first batch of repatriates since Del Rosario went to Syria.
The OFWs stayed in the PHL Embassy in Syria for a month before they were allowed to leave.
During that month, they underwent stress debriefing and psychological counseling sessions.
Over 2,000 OFWs have so far been repatriated from Syria.
The papers of about 1,000 OFWs in Syria are currently being processed.
Tales of horror
Meanwhile, according to a report of the Associated Press on Wednesday, Filipina Ruth Pana said the windows of her employer's house in Damascus were riddled with bullets. Pana, 29, said one of the sons of her Syrian employer was killed by government forces.
"His chest was opened like there was large steel that passed through it," she recalled with tears. Pana said her employer's son was buried at the back of the house because there were no more cemeteries.
She said a military camp behind her employer's residence was occupied by the rebels. The military last week launched a counter-attack and bombardment using helicopters.
Pana said if one saw the bodies of the dead people, "you would be throwing up." Fighting gets worse
Meanwhile, according to a report of Louis Charbonneau of the Reuters news agency, as the fighting in Syria gets worse, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels determined to oust him are committing an increasing number of violations of international humanitarian law, the EU humanitarian chief said on Tuesday.
"This is an asymmetrical war, and there is a degree of expansion of violation of international humanitarian law on both sides that seems to be escalating,"Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union's commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, told reporters.
"This is why it's so important to say in the simplest possible way: 'No, you cannot do that, or if you do it, there will be consequences,'" she said after meeting with Anthony Lake, head of the U.N. children's fund UNICEF.
The Syrian government and allied militia have been accused by the United Nations and Western governments of numerous large-scale massacres, though the rebels are also facing allegations of mass killings.
Amateur video posted on You Tube on Monday showed images of 20 dead Syrian soldiers, blindfolded and handcuffed, after they were apparently executed in the northern city of Aleppo.
Georgieva said that many of the rebels were likely unaware that they, like the government forces, were obligated to comply with international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions. But ignorance of legal obligations would be no excuse when the war was over, she said.
UNICEF's Lake said that rebels and government forces alike should be held accountable for any war crimes they commit during the conflict.
"There must be no impunity for anyone on either side," Lake said.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Monday that justice would eventually catch up with anyone on either side of the Syrian conflict who was guilty of war crimes.
The United Nations has said that over 20,000 people have been killed in the 18-month conflict in Syria. Syrian opposition groups say that more than 27,000 have died.
The United Nations has said that the better-armed government forces and their allies have killed more people than the rebels, though neither side has clean hands in a conflict that is now widely seen as a full-scale civil war.
Both Georgieva and Lake appealed for humanitarian pauses in the fighting to allow humanitarian access to conflict zones and evacuation of the most vulnerable elements of the Syrian population - children, the elderly and women - who have been bearing the brunt of the attacks on civilian areas. - with a report from Reuters, VVP, GMA News